Favorite Books

I love to read and I’m always looking and browsing through books for more inspiration and ideas for Make Your Own projects.  Each month I feature a book on the sidebar area of my blog and have started this page as a way to collect some of these featured books together.  Some of these books I own, some I have just gotten from the library and enjoyed, and others I just want to read someday!  I hope you find this list helpful too and that it will provide inspiration and plenty of ideas for recipes to try, ways to save money, or tips for going green.

Disclosure:  The links below are affiliate links which means at no cost to you, I may get a VERY SMALL commission which I put toward the cost of keeping this blog going.  Thank you!

{Note:  Even though I’ve been featuring books for some time, I’ve started this list new again beginning March, 2015, with the most recent date at the beginning of this list.}


Featured Book: July, 2019

The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure


What I love about Alana Chernila’s books is that they’re not your usual straightforward cookbooks, and instead they feel more like a welcoming invitation into her kitchen. Rather than just quickly flipping through the photos and recipes as I often do with cookbooks, I find myself drawn in by her lovely writing style and taking the time to enjoy what she has to say on each page as she shares different anecdotes about each recipe and the accompanying little stories about their home life. I always feel that she’s really familiar with all the recipes she puts in her books too and that she has in fact whipped them up many times in her rustic little kitchen. This is a follow up book to her first book (The Homemade Pantry) and the focus is still on the same type of cooking: delicious, whole food creations you can make from scratch. There are definitely some “make your own” recipes to be found such as Animal Crackers, Feta Cheese, Pizza Dough, and Lemon Curd. But you’ll also find recipes for meals too such as soups, salads, burritos, and quiche. The first chapter is titled “Start Where You Are” and this book is a perfect way to help you do just that.


Featured Book:  May and June, 2019

Beeswax Alchemy: How to Make Your Own Soap, Candles, Balms, Creams, and Salves from the Hive

While beeswax is a somewhat familiar ingredient to many of us, this book helps the reader to really understand much more about what beeswax really is. Because the author and her husband have kept bee hives for many years, as well as selling their honey and their beeswax creations at markets, she has a wealth of knowledge on the subject and lots of experience making her recipes. She shares her expertise on how to make a variety of beeswax candles, as well as soaps and other personal care items. Some unexpected things show up in this book too, including how to waterproof your canvas shoes with beeswax and how to use beeswax to make batik art. Many helpful step-by-step photos are included too and you’ll be inspired to start melting your own beeswax into beautiful creations.


Featured Book: September, 2018
The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites

Part history book and part cookbook, The American Plate looks back at the evolution of American food beginning with the native peoples and moving into the modern era. It’s an easy book to work your way through with each different food topic organized as a quick bite to read beginning with Bite 1: Maize and ending with Bite 100: Sushi, with everything from Beaver Tail to Wonder Bread in between. Some of the topics also include a recipe to go along with it too so if you’re feeling ambitious you can create updated versions of historical things like Pemmican (an American Indian version of an energy bar) to more modern things like New England Fish Chowder. If you like knowing the background and fun facts behind the way things are, then you’ll enjoy the learning experience of reading this book to better understand how different recipes came about and how things like coffee, tea, pie, bagels, peanut butter, iceberg lettuce, celery, and even pizza, became commonplace staples in American culture.


Featured Book:  July and August, 2018
Glow Pops: Super Easy Superfood Recipes to Help you Look and Feel your Best

Is it possible to eat your smoothies on a stick? Yes it is, and the “Super Easy Super Food” recipes in Glow Pops are great examples. The super easy part is because almost all of the recipes just take a bit of whirring in the blender (just like a smoothie) and they’re ready to put into popsicle molds and freeze. The Super Food part that helps you “glow from the inside out” as the book says, comes from the fresh fruit (or veggies), nut milks, natural sweeteners, and other add-in’s used in the recipes. The author certainly knows what it takes to make a successful frozen popsicle and shares her tips, tricks, and advice in the introduction as well as through the rest of the book. She even includes how to make your own nut milks to use in her mixtures. There are five chapter categories: Fruity, Creamy, Chocolately, Savory, and Green and recipes range from the somewhat familiar (Pink Lemonade) to the adventurous (Mango Arugula Cilantro). And just when you happen upon a recipe that seems familiar, you’ll look at the ingredient list and see some surprises. The Chocolate Fudge glow pop includes . . . avocado!  The Mint Chocolate Chip glow pop includes . . . spinach! And what will I be trying? I’ll be seeing if I can make my own coconut milk to create some Blueberry & Cream glow pops. Yum!


Featured Book:  May and June, 2018
DIY Canning: Over 100 Small-Batch Recipes for All Seasons

Sometimes canning is about using up a bumper crop of zucchini or tomatoes and putting up big batches, but other times canning can just be about wanting a few jars around of something tasty and homemade where you control the ingredients. And for those times a book like this comes in handy! Just like the subtitle says, this book contains small batch recipes with most of them making just a few pint or half-pint jars.  And there’s a nice variety too with recipes for jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, and sauces, as well some basics for fruits, vegetables, and meats.  If you’re looking for a little change of pace from the larger canning recipes, you’ll find several nice options included in the chapters of this book.


Featured Book:  April, 2018
The City Homesteader: Self-Sufficiency on Any Square Footage

Self sufficiency is an attractive idea to many people, but it can feel daunting to know how that can be accomplished in a small urban setting. But as this book shows, there are ways to make it happen!   Ideas for growing your own food, preserving food, and things to make for running the household, are some of the categories tackled in this book.  There are several projects labeled specifically as “Small Space Projects” in this book too that I found intriguing such as how to make a potato barrel for growing potatoes or how to make your own solar food dehydrator, as well as other projects like making a compost bin or a rain collection barrel. As I was reading this book in the spring, I felt quite inspired to try growing a few of the small space food suggestions during the upcoming warm months.  I think I’ll be doing cherry tomatoes based on this book’s list of high yield crops for small spaces, and I might also try planting my own strawberry pot (one of the inspiring Small Space Projects that’s calling out to me!)


Featured Book:  February, and March 2018
Nourished Beginnings Baby Food: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Infants, Toddlers and Beyond Inspired by Ancient Wisdom and Traditional Foods

Yes, this is a book about making food for babies and toddlers, but as you flip through it you’ll find yourself thinking, “Hey that looks good – I would totally eat that too!”  The book starts out with recipes designed for the littlest ones made of things like peas, carrots, or beets.  But as the book moves on to recipes for toddlers, the fare becomes more family friendly. There are soups, granola, oatmeal, pudding, meats, and vegetable side dishes that anyone of any age can enjoy. ( I’ve decided to give the herbed cauliflower “rice” and the steamed pears a try!)  The emphasis of this book is not only on creating homemade food options for the little ones, but to have those options be very nourishing and made from ingredients that will provide good nutrition for our families. You’ll find this book to be a wonderful resource if you enjoy making tasty and healthy dishes for your family, including the very littlest ones who are just learning to join in at the family table.


Featured Book:  January, 2018 and March, 2017
Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving

If you’re a frugal sort of person (like me) you won’t really find any new ideas in this book. That being said, I think it’s still good to read about frugal living from time to time to keep yourself motivated and to reinforce the benefits of living simply. For instance after reading this book, I came away motivated to do a better job of taking inventory before I go on my weekly grocery shopping trip (the Amish trait of trying to use what you have first). I’ve heard the author, Lorilee Craker, speak in person (she’s good!) and this book has the same down-to-earth, friendly, and somewhat humorous style as when she speaks. This book is an easy read and everyone can come away with some nugget of truth and inspiration from these timeless money secrets of the Amish.


Featured Book:  December, 2017
Taste of Home Christmas Cookbook

The “Taste of Home” cookbooks have two qualities that I really like in a cookbook: they’re filled with reader submissions and lots of pictures. I love to read the little blurbs from the person who submitted the recipe giving their insider info on the recipe, and I love to see how the finished product will look by having a photo. The Taste of Home Christmas books hit the mark in both these areas, and after browsing through it you should have lots and lots of ideas and inspiration for adding a little homemade goodness to your Christmas gatherings. I most recently looked through the 2014 edition but you can find their Christmas collections published for other years too. They include appetizers, breads, cookies, side dishes, desserts, and even complete dinner menus. If you like to give homemade food gifts, there’s several yummy ideas in this category too. And there’s more than just food! There’s also a few crafty chapters for quick decorations or gifts you can make. Any of the Taste of Home Christmas books are lovely collections of simple yet special holiday ideas that are sure to add a little extra joy to the season.


Featured Book:  November, 2017
Mason Jar Gifts: Create Heartwarming Gifts Using Canning Jars

Canning jars are always a dependable item to use for gift giving, but why not dress them up a little bit more? This book takes that approach with instructions and ideas for lots of different painting techniques, stenciling, and fun trims that can be used. And if you’re not up to all that craftiness, there’s also a section of “quick tricks” with clever ways to fancy up the lids of your jars to make customized gifts. Canning jars are often used for food gifts and this book keeps this in mind too and includes several recipes for drink mixes, cakes-in-jars, cookie mixes, savory treats, and even a recipe for dog treats! Many of the recipes also have a label on the page that could be copied and used on your canning jar gift. If you’re a fan of canning jars, this book is certain to provide some inspiration for new ways to use them for gift giving or for just making the canning jars around your own home even prettier.


Featured Book:  September and October 2017
The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples

Those that have made the decision to change their diets to eliminate meat and dairy are probably prepared to make more of their own food from scratch.  However this book is filled with traditional food staples that have been adapted to make from scratch and still keep a vegan lifestyle – and many of them are quite unexpected!  There’s vegan versions of butter and cheese, bouillons and soup concentrates, baking mixes, salad dressings, and ice cream.  In addition to recipes for staples you’ll find meal ideas too including “Unfish Sticks”, “Unribs”, and “Breast of Unchicken”, as well as homemade pastas and sauces.  Whether you’re a vegan, thinking about becoming a vegan, or perhaps just need to eliminate certain foods because of allergies or other reasons, this book is sure to inspire you with the many DIY vegan alternatives you can make that will keep your kitchen filled with homemade goodness.


Featured Book:  August, 2017
Dressings: Over 200 Recipes for the Perfect Salads, Marinades, Sauces, and Dips

Homemade salad dressings are a simple way to perk up what might otherwise be an ordinary plate of greens.  Most homemade salad dressings don’t take many ingredients either and often times a quick combo of vinegar, oil, and a few spices will do the trick.  But if you’re tired of the same old basic vinaigrette, this book might be just the inspiration you need. It does include some of the most basic dressings many folks are already familiar with, but then takes them in new directions too and gives you lots of variations on a basic template.  The chapters are divided into vinaigrettes, creamy dressings, bold flavors, and sweet stuff, as well as a couple of chapters on sauces and dips and how to infuse oils for your dressings. With over 200 ideas included, you’ll come away not only with some new recipes to try, but you’ll also gain an understanding of the method used to make your own salad dressings and how you can create lots of delicious variations from a few good basic recipes.


Featured Book:  June and July, 2017
The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping

This book is full of ideas for items to create for the home and is written in a friendly and knowledgable style by a blogger who specializes in edible gardening and urban homesteading. I really enjoyed her nice combination of the basic and the slightly unusual. The chapters are set up in a seasonal format too which is one of my favorite ways to organize recipes and info. The book begins with a year-round category and then moves on to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Within each of those categories are sections for Cooking, Preserving, Home Care, and Personal Care. So not only will you find recipes for soup or salad dressing, you’ll also find recipes for homemade cleaners, lip balm, and bath bombs. And again, there’s a nice mixture within each category of basic recipes (making yogurt, canning beans, glass cleaner, or body scrub) mingled together with interesting new ideas (Fresh Fig Salad, Ginger-Bourbon Pears, Leather Cream, and Slippery Shaving Soap.) Because it covers all these categories, it’s the kind of book that makes a great reference manual for anyone who enjoys the homemade lifestyle.


Featured Book:  April and May, 2017
101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home

The author of this book (Jan Berry) writes the blog The Nerdy Farm Wife, and she’s now put together this book full of great recipes that show her experience and knowledge on making natural homemade products using flowers, herbs, and weeds that you might be able to find right in your own backyard.  The majority of the recipes are for personal care items (soaps, creams, scrubs, lip balms, etc.) but there are some recipes for cleaners too.  I really enjoyed her emphasis on using seasonal plants that included sunflowers, dandelions, mint leaves, forsythia, hollyhocks, peonies, roses, thyme, and many more!  Each recipe includes a lovely picture of the finished product too, something I very much appreciate in recipe books. I’ll be trying her Violet Flower Cleanser recipe once the violets start blooming along my back fence, and I suspect most readers can find a recipe in this book that uses a plant that’s blooming somewhere near their house too.


Featured Book:  January, 2017
Mason Jar Nation: The Jars that Changed America and 50 Clever Ways to Use Them Today

After looking through this book you just might find yourself wanting to begin your own collection of vintage mason jars.  The opening portions of the book give us a look back at the history of mason jars along with some photos and info from collectors.  I know it inspired me to keep a watch out at garage sales and second stores to see if I can spot any of those old-timey jars from years ago.  The second part of the book gives the reader some modern day ideas for using mason jars for more than just canning.  You’ll find crafty projects for in the kitchen, the garden, for storage, and for lanterns and lighting. It even includes one of my favorite mason jar tricks – putting your jar on a blender.  Yup, they fit!


Featured Book:  October and November, 2016
Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World

One of the things I found interesting about this book was the wide range of projects it includes.  It starts out with small projects (what they call day-to-day items) such as homemade personal care items and olive oil lamps.  From there they move on to week-to-week projects (things like making chicken stock, making cleaning products, and mending) and season-to-season projects (making soap, planting seeds, and homemade fertilizers).  But perhaps what makes this book the most unique is its final section titled “Infrastructure” where you can learn how to make your own compost bin, chicken coop, solar cooker, beekeeping structure, even a dry toilet!  It’s self sufficiency like the good old days, but with current and thorough directions, advice, and input from the authors who practice what they preach.


Featured Book:  September, 2016
The Stocked Kitchen: One Grocery List . . . Endless Recipes

If you like to keep things simple, you’ll find the concept behind this book very intriguing!  The authors changed their approach to grocery shopping and now keep just certain basics in their homes, and combine those basics in different ways to make many other recipes.  As their tagline states, their way of doing things is to have “one grocery list” that translates to “endless recipes”.  I really like this concept and their simplified way of grocery shopping and find I often run my kitchen the same way.  I love the “less is more” concept and using your resources to their maximum potential.  You’ll find plenty of DIY recipes in this book that will help you do exactly that.


Featured Book:  July and August, 2016
The Natural Beauty Solution: Break Free from Commerical Beauty Products Using Simple Recipes and Natural Ingredients

I’ve been a little curious about making more of my own beauty products, so I checked out this book for a few ideas – and it was inspiring!  All the recipes use natural ingredients and are easy enough for beginners.  Many of the recipes are labeled as “everyday recipes” and include basics like body wash, lip balm and body lotion.  There’s “specialty recipes” too for things like a healing facial masque, detangler, and a pedicure scrub.  If you’ve ever wanted to take steps toward using more natural products for your skin, this book will give you lots of good ideas to get started!


Featured Book:  June, 2016
People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop

This sentence from the introduction of this book is a great way to sum up the joy of popsicles: “Who doesn’t love those refreshing little nuggets of fruit and sugar and ice, crystallized summertime?”  Yes, homemade popsicles are a little crystallized piece of summertime and this book gives us 55 ways to make our own using fresh ingredients.  The authors of the book started selling their popular homemade ice pops at farmer’s markets using the local and fresh fruits that were in season.  From there they opened People’s Pops {which we are to understand is Brooklyn’s coolest pop shop} Their book inspires us to use the fresh fruit that’s in season and therefore is divided into seasonal chapters.  They include recipes for Spring (strawberry, rhubarb and cucumber), Early Summer (blueberry, raspberry, cherry, and blackberry), Mid-Summer (apricot, peaches, nectarines, and plum) Late Summer (corn, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and fig), and finally Autumn (cranberry, apple, grape, pear and pumpkin).  Their chapter with tips on the basic method is titled “Fundamentals:  Fruit + Sugar + Freeze.  And that’s about it!  All their recipes seem quite simple because they follow a basic method of mixing pureed fruit with a simple syrup of water and organic cane sugar with a few interesting and fun ideas for add-ins like salted caramel, ginger, or vanilla.  You then freeze your mixtures so you can savor those little crystallized nuggets of summertime.


Featured Book: April and May, 2016
Hand Made Baking: Recipes to Warm the Heart

There are plenty of delicious looking recipes in this book for those who like to bake from scratch. You’ll find brownies, cakes, frostings, pies, and cookies to name a few.  I like that the author has a few “make your own” recipes too including homemade graham crackers, homemade animal crackers, and homemade bagels.


Featured Book:  March, 2016
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

One day  I was talking to a co-worker about her book club and asked “So, what was a favorite book you’ve read in your book club?”  This book was her quick answer, and she was then kind enough to loan me her copy.  And I loved the book too!  The Dirty Life is the real life memoir of Kristin Kimball who found herself leaving behind her city life to chase the dream of starting a sustainable working farm with the new love of her life (and yes, he was a farmer).  For those of us who are intrigued by a resourceful and homemade lifestyle, this book gives us an inside look at what it really means to live off the land, butcher your own meat, and solve your own problems.  I especially liked her story of the night when the cupboards were quite bare during their struggling first year, so they shot some pigeons and made their own creative dinner!  The author’s easy writing style makes this book a very enjoyable read and you’ll feel like you’re right there with her as she milks the cows, taps the trees for sap, and brings in her first harvest.


Featured Book:  February, 2016
One-Hour Cheese: Ricotta, Mozzarella, Chèvre, Paneer–Even Burrata. Fresh and Simple Cheeses You Can Make in an Hour or Less!

I love the friendly writing style of this book that sets out to help us understand we should not be intimidated by making our own cheese.  The focus of the book is on soft cheeses like ricotta, paneer, cottage cheese, and mozzarella that can be made in an hour or less to help beginners see quick results for their efforts.  There are wonderful step-by-step pictures for each homemade cheese that make it very clear how to do each part of the process. Each homemade cheese also includes an accompanying recipe for a way to put your new cheese to use.  You’ll come away from this book saying “Yes, I can do this!”


Featured Book:  January, 2016
Quench: Handcrafted Beverages to Satisfy Every Taste and Occasion

There’s plenty of ideas to inspire you in this book filled with homemade beverage recipes. I liked the way the recipes were organized too.  Soft drinks were grouped as “Refreshing”  or “Invigorating” or “Comforting”.  The Hard drinks were “Spirited” or “Warming” or “Festive”.  You’ll find everything from basics like infused water and almond milk, to more interesting recipes like Birch Beer or Dandelion wine.  There’s plenty of ideas for sodas, teas, fruit-ades, and milks, as well as more grownup recipes for wines and liqueurs.


Featured Book:  December, 2015 and December, 2016
12 Days of Christmas With Six Sisters’ Stuff: Recipes, Traditions, Homemade Gifts, and So Much More

This book is all about sharing things in groups of 12.  For example, you’ll find 12 recipes for Christmas cookies, 12 recipes for Christmas brunch, and 12 quick and easy ideas for family dinners.  But more than just recipes, they also have 12 ideas for homemade Christmas gifts, 12 ideas for giving back, and 12 of their favorite family traditions, to name a few.  If you’ve enjoyed the blog the six sisters have written for several years, you’ll find lots to enjoy in this book too.


Featured Book:  October and November, 2015
A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together

Books on seasonal topics are always popular but this book takes a different approach from the usual Halloween pumpkins, Christmas trees, and Easter bunnies and instead follows a liturgical calendar of religious celebrations and traditions.  Some traditions may be familiar such as Lent or Pentecost, but others like St. James Day or Michaelmas may be new to you.  The book includes crafts, recipes, and stories and those that celebrate religious holidays and traditions will find it a refreshing alternative to the usual seasonal fare.


Featured Book: September, 2015
The Good Pantry: Homemade Foods & Mixes Lower in Sugar, Salt & Fat

This book is a nice blend of traditional favorites and new ideas. Recipes for basic homemade items like Honey Whole Wheat Bread and Classic Pasta Dough mingle with interesting ideas like Quinoa-Granola Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fig & Onion Focaccia. The book also aims to share homemade alternatives that are lower in sugar, salt, and fat and each of the recipes is labeled if it meets certain dietary needs too like gluten free, egg free, nut free, or dairy free.


Featured Book:  August, 2015
Clean House Clean Planet

I’ve owned this book for several years (it was originally published in 1997) and it was what first inspired me to try making some of my own cleaners.  Beyond just recipes, there’s lots of info about chemicals, the ph of cleaners (alkaline or acidic) and the potential environmental effects of cleaners.  Rather than just giving you the HOW of making a recipe, it helps you understand WHY a cleaning recipe works.  This book continues to be a great resource for anyone with an interest in going green and learning more about homemade cleaning alternatives.


Featured Book:  July, 2015
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch

The author of this book has a casual writing style that makes this an interesting and fun read above and beyond it just being a cookbook.  Not many cookbooks give you an inside peek at what it’s really like to buy and keep a goat!  And when she talks about making a roast chicken from scratch, well, she’s starting from butchering one of her chickens.  Each recipe has a key for “Make It or Buy It” but I discovered that many recipes get the “Make It” status because she often feels it’s good to give the homemade version a try at least once.  A few that made the “Buy It” designation are hamburg buns (just not sturdy enough), potato chips (too much slicing) and maraschino cherries (just too tedious).  Sometimes cost was her reason for not making it (her reason for not making butter) although when I made homemade butter I found the process fun and simple and not that much more expensive.  There are over 120 recipes in this book with lots of ideas for homemade versions of items to try out.


Featured Book:  May and June, 2015
Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living

This book is a great reference tool to add to your home bookshelf if you’re interested in homemade alternatives and particularly if you want greener and less toxic options.  The cover says it contains “868 Practical Formulas” and I believe it!  I’ve consulted my copy of this book on several occasions when readers have asked me questions about homemade items I’m unfamiliar with (for instance a reader who asked about homemade Milk Paint).  A sampling of some of the recipe categories include cleaners, personal care, art supplies, kids projects, and home maintenance.  Although this book was published in 1999, most of the recipes are quite timeless as they use ordinary ingredients that never go out of style.


Featured Book:  April, 2015
Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-wise Mom Shares Her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill

This is another book I own that’s been a good resource for budget friendly family recipes as well as a book that includes a nice assortment of “Make Your Own” type of recipes. I adapted and wrote about the Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore from this book, and it’s a favorite at our house that we eat all the time.  In addition to the recipes, this book also has several introductory chapters about frugal grocery shopping and meal planning.


Featured book: March, 2015
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making

This is a book that I own and  have found it to be filled with lovely photos and well written recipes for homemade alternatives to common pantry items. The author of this book also writes a blog (EatingFromTheGroundUp.com) and each of the recipes is accompanied by an entertaining little story to go along with it.  I especially like her addition of “tense moments” to some of the recipe instructions to get you through those parts of a recipe where you’re not sure if it will really come together or not.  You’ll find recipes for hamburger buns, cream cheese, marshmallows, ketchup, yellow cake, graham crackers, and fruit rollups, just to name a few.